May­ors in B.C. call for ac­tion to deal with men­tal-health and ad­dic­tions crises,

Times Colonist - - FRONT PAGE - LIND­SAY KINES lkines@times­colonist.com

The may­ors of B.C.’s 13 largest cities are call­ing on po­lit­i­cal par­ties in the pro­vin­cial elec­tion to pledge im­me­di­ate help for the spi­ralling men­tal health and ad­dic­tion crises in ur­ban ar­eas.

Faced with wors­en­ing dis­or­der on streets and in pub­lic parks, the newly formed B.C. Ur­ban May­ors’ Cau­cus wants to see ex­panded treat­ment op­tions and in­creased ac­cess to a safer drug sup­ply.

As well, they say any re­view of the Po­lice Act should look at other ways of re­spond­ing to men­tal health and sub­stance-use calls in the com­mu­nity rather than re­ly­ing solely on po­lice.

Van­cou­ver Mayor Kennedy Ste­wart told a news con­fer­ence Wed­nes­day that the prob­lems ex­isted be­fore COVID-19 hit, but they’ve be­come worse due to an in­creas­ingly toxic drug sup­ply and a rise in home­less­ness as shel­ters closed or re­duced beds.

“Our busi­nesses, which are al­ready strug­gling from the eco­nomic im­pacts of COVID-19, are fac­ing new chal­lenges as a re­sult of higher rates of so­cial dis­or­der and un­pre­dictable and some­times vi­o­lent be­hav­ior from peo­ple in cri­sis,” he said.

Vic­to­ria Mayor Lisa Helps, who co-chairs the cau­cus with Kelowna Mayor Colin Bas­ran, said in an in­ter­view that the may­ors are “at our wits’ end” deal­ing with peo­ple on the streets who re­quire ex­ten­sive health care. “I was sur­prised that all of these may­ors across the

prov­ince agreed this is our No. 1 is­sue.”

Helps said im­me­di­ate ac­tion is needed, be­cause the prov­ince faces an en­tirely new prob­lem in ris­ing num­bers of peo­ple who sur­vived a drug over­dose, but will have a life-long brain in­jury as a re­sult. And she said it’s clear that sim­ply pro­vid­ing hous­ing with sup­ports isn’t enough for some peo­ple who have more com­plex needs.

“I don’t know what the an­swer is, but there’s some piece of

a con­tin­uum of care that isn’t there yet,” she said.

Nanaimo Mayor Leonard Krog, a for­mer NDP MLA, re­peated his pre­vi­ous call for the re­turn of se­cure fa­cil­i­ties where peo­ple with more se­vere men­tal health and ad­dic­tions is­sues can re­ceive the care and med­i­ca­tion they need.

Krog said in an in­ter­view that he’s not ad­vo­cat­ing for the re­open­ing of Riverview or other big in­sti­tu­tions. “But I am ask­ing for smaller fa­cil­i­ties in the

com­mu­nity where, for some peo­ple, it may be se­cure, maybe they can go in and out dur­ing the day, maybe they can’t.” He ac­knowl­edged that his views are not shared by all the may­ors, but said it’s time for a “ma­ture con­ver­sa­tion” about how to help those who are in­ca­pable of look­ing af­ter them­selves.

“We have no prob­lem putting our 85-year-old grandma, who’s suf­fer­ing from Alzheimer’s … in a se­cure fa­cil­ity where she can’t wan­der the streets and be struck by cars or abused or what­ever,” he said. “The pub­lic doesn’t un­der­stand what the dif­fer­ence is.”

The par­ties have yet to re­lease de­tailed plans of how they will re­spond to the grow­ing prob­lems of home­less­ness, ad­dic­tion and men­tal-health is­sues.

NDP Leader John Hor­gan said this week that his govern­ment has made progress get­ting peo­ple off the streets in a num­ber of com­mu­ni­ties, but he ac­knowl­edged that “de­spite our best ef­forts, it seems to the pub­lic like this is get­ting out of con­trol.”

He promised to con­tinue work­ing with lo­cal govern­ments, while press­ing the fed­eral govern­ment “to take a hard look at how they can get back into the busi­ness of hous­ing — not just with press re­leases, but with dol­lars and com­mit­ments to plan­ning through this fall.”

Lib­eral Leader An­drew Wilkin­son at­tacked the NDP for “ware­hous­ing” peo­ple in ho­tels without proper sup­ports, call­ing the ap­proach a “to­tal fail­ure.”

But he has of­fered few specifics on how he would tackle prob­lems, be­yond fo­cus­ing on pre­ven­tion.

“These are com­plex dis­or­ders,” he said Wed­nes­day.

“We need to fig­ure out the causes for in­di­vid­u­als. Treat them as hu­man be­ings, not as a gag­gle of peo­ple who are some­how all go­ing to have the same an­swer.”

Vic­to­ria Mayor Lisa Helps said may­ors are “at our wits’ end” deal­ing with peo­ple on the streets who re­quire ex­ten­sive health care.

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